Rich Tandler talks Skins rookie workouts
By Rich Tandler and Tarik El-Bashir
As you may have heard, the Redskins took two rookie safeties in last month’s draft and both of them are considered to be steals. Many figured that fourth-round pick Phillip Thomas would be a solid second-round selection and if Bacarri had been able to stay on the straight and narrow path, he would have gone much sooner than he did as well.
Both of these players could play key roles in 2013. But which one of the safeties is more ready for prime time? And which of them will become a regular in the lineup sooner and have a greater impact this season? Rich Tandler and Tarik El-Bashir debate the safeties in this week’s edition of Point-Counterpoint.
Rich Tandler: As of right now, Thomas seems to be the more polished prospect who is ready to step in an contribute right away. But contributing in the NFL as a rookie has as much to do with opportunity as it does with ability. Make no mistake, Rambo is very ready, having played for four years in the ultra-competitive SEC. But Rambo will get his opportunity because he plays the one position where the Redskins don’t have a returning starter. He is a natural free safety. Yes, I heard Mike Shanahan talking about interchangeable safeties last week. But as long as Brandon Meriweather, who is strictly a strong safety, is on the field, the Redskins need a true free safety on the field. They have one of those on the roster right now and his name is Bacarri Rambo.
Tarik El-Bashir: Thomas “seems” to be the more polished prospect because he is the more polished prospect. He’s got all the physical tools needed to make an immediate impact. But he’s got something that’s even more crucial: he’s intimately familiar with the Redskins’ scheme because last season Fresno State switched to a 3-4 defense that’s very similar to Washington’s. That’s an enormous advantage for any player, but it’s especially helpful for a rookie attempting to get acclimated to one of the game’s most complex positions. That said, do I think he steps right into the starting lineup? That’s a lot to ask and the coaches know it. But given the team’s vacancy at free safety as well as Thomas’ oft-mentioned football intellect and level of comfort with the system, it just might happen. My best guess: Brandon Meriweather starts at strong safety and Thomas starts at free in Week 1. Ready for another bold prediction? Thomas has three picks in ‘13.
Tandler: I certainly wouldn’t dismiss your scenario entirely, but there is something we need to consider here. We’re both making the assumption here that Meriweather will be on the field and healthy for 16 games. Don’t forget that he had mid-November ACL surgery and if his injury woes prior to that last year are any indication he’s not necessarily the fastest of healers. Both rookies could well end up getting a ton of playing time. And if that happens, the player in the more instinctive position, free safety Bacarri Rambo, would be in a perfect spot to have a big rookie year.
El-Bashir: There are four months until the Eagles come to FedEx Field for the season opener on Monday night. And, of course, a lot can happen during that time. But every indication so far has been that Thomas will enter the meat of the offseason with a head start on Rambo. It also sounds like Thomas has less to work on. He’s a heady player who’s already comfortable with the system and now must adjust to the speed of the NFL game. That’s no easy task, but it’s definitely an edge. Rambo, on the hand, has acknowledged that the coaching staff got on him during rookie minicamp about his tackling form, pursuit angles and other nuances of the position. Look, we got to watch exactly 1 hour 45 minutes of drills against draft picks and invitees last week. That’s not enough to draw any concrete conclusions. But if you read between the lines, it certainly sounds like Thomas is ahead of Rambo on the depth chart right now and will get the first shot at locking down a starting job.